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CIA Chief Tells of Efforts to Reshape Clandestine Service : Intelligence: Woolsey reacts to critics of his actions after Ames scandal. He says agency will exert more control over covert division.

October 07, 1994|RONALD J. OSTROW | TIMES STAFF WRITER

WASHINGTON — CIA Director R. James Woolsey, stung by criticism over disciplinary actions that he took after the most damaging intelligence breach in CIA history, went public Thursday with his attempts to recast the agency's covert operations division.

In an interview, Woolsey said that the agency will exercise greater control over the clandestine service, known officially as the Directorate of Operations, which generally has functioned as an independent fiefdom within the CIA.

At the same time, Woolsey said that he will strive to establish "a corporate sense of responsibility and an attitude in which everybody pulls together on substantive problems, as distinct from defending his or her own little bailiwick.

"The change is going to take time to implement," Woolsey said of the reforms to the operations directorate, the branch of the agency that allowed Aldrich H. Ames, a drunken, often bungling CIA veteran, to steal and sell highly sensitive secrets to the Soviet Union and later to Russia.

"It took the Directorate of Operations four decades or so to get into a situation such that an Ames could slide by," Woolsey said. "Some change has begun but a good deal more needs to take place.

"Realistically speaking, I think it will be within the first half decade of the 21st Century--five to 10 years from now--before people really know whether or not some of these changes are having the effect I want," Woolsey said. "Substantial cultural change in an institution, when you're trying to maintain the best of it and deter or do away with the destructive aspects, takes time."

Changes that Woolsey has ordered for the Directorate of Operations include:

* Basing promotions on the value of intelligence an agent produces and the security of operations he conducts, rather than the number of agents recruited.

* Having intelligence officers file evaluation reports on their immediate superiors, an "upward feedback" without precedent and designed to ensure that performance is evaluated bottom-up as well as top-down.

* Establishing evaluation boards to assess at specific stages in an individual's career his suitability, continued employment and career opportunities in the clandestine service.

* Reducing the insularity of CIA officials managing overseas work by having performance standard teams call on them to advise them about policy issues and their overall performance. The teams will report directly to Woolsey.

* Counterintelligence training for clandestine officers, both when they join the agency and at mid-career points.

Woolsey detailed the changes in closed-door briefings with the House Intelligence Committee Wednesday and its Senate counterpart Thursday. Afterward, staff and some committee members said that they either needed more information or more time before making a judgment.

"It's too early to tell if they (Woolsey's steps) are curative," said a member of the House Intelligence Committee staff. "The members gave Mr. Woolsey good marks for recognizing something needs to be done to change the culture out there."

Sen. Dennis DeConcini (D-Ariz.), Senate Intelligence Committee chairman and one of Woolsey's sharpest critics, said that the director will be called back next week because time constraints permitted just three senators to question him.

DeConcini said that it would be "unfair to judge" the changes until he gets answers to his questions, which center on "how this is going to change the culture and the problems that clearly exist there."

Woolsey announced last week that he was reprimanding 11 current and former senior intelligence officials for their roles in failing to help detect Ames' spying. Critics on Capitol Hill and elsewhere questioned whether those steps were adequate.

In the interview Thursday, Woolsey vigorously defended his disciplinary decisions. He also gave no indication that he was considering stepping down as director of central intelligence. A CIA official said that Woolsey had planned to carry out the changes without fanfare but chose to discuss them to counter the recent criticisms.

After reviewing the report of the CIA inspector general on the Ames case, Woolsey said he decided that four individuals "whose failure to take action or whose negligence constituted serious enough failures that, were they still with the CIA, they would have been dismissed or asked to retire."

But three had already retired and the fourth did so two days after his findings, Woolsey said. "You can't fire people who are retired."

As for the four officers still on active duty who were reprimanded for not acting as aggressively in the Ames case as Woolsey would have preferred, he said: "I felt that a reprimand was all that was just."

"The Directorate of Operations was grossly negligent, and much of the way it worked and works needs to be changed," he said. "But that is a different thing than in my judgment falsely visiting retribution on individuals disproportionate to the actions they took."

Woolsey said that he is moving to create "a much closer partnership" between the Operations and Intelligence Directorates.

Times staff writer Karen Tumulty contributed to this story.

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